China imposes voluntary fishing moratorium in northern Indian Ocean after being linked to illegal catches

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China has launched a voluntary fishing moratorium covering international waters in the northern Indian Ocean for the first time.

A notice issued by the agriculture ministry said fishing bans on the high seas of the southwest Atlantic and north Indian Ocean would be in effect between July 1 and September 30, while the fishing moratorium in the eastern Pacific open seas will run from September 1 to November 30.

During the fishing moratorium, all Chinese distant-water fishing vessels, including squid boats and trawlers, must stop fishing in related waters, the ministry said.

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Since 2020, China has brought in voluntary fishing bans on key high-seas fishing grounds in the southwest Atlantic and eastern Pacific for two consecutive years, according to the ministry.

Earlier reports suggest Chinese trawlers have been involved in illegal fishing in the Indian Ocean.

A report released in December by Norway-based watchdog group Trygg Mat Tracking (TMT) said Chinese vessels had been documented using wide nets to illegally catch already overfished tuna as part of a surge in unregulated activity in the Indian Ocean.

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It said the number of squid vessels on the high seas of the Indian Ocean had exploded six-fold since 2016, and the vast majority of the vessels sailing on the high seas off the coast of Oman and Yemen were flagged to China.

Some of the same Chinese vessels highlighted by the group had a history of illegal activity in other parts of the world and were spotted by satellite drifting close to the boundaries of Oman and Yemen where they did not have permission to fish.

A report in February by the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region, which is affiliated with the Indian Navy, said there were 379 incidents of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the Indian Ocean and adjoining waters in 2020.

On Tuesday, the US-led Quad group said it would launch a new initiative to track “dark shipping” and illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific.

Dark ships are vessels that turn off their AIS transponders to hide their location and identities, usually to conceal activities such as illegal fishing or unauthorised entry into another country’s waters.

Over the next five years, the Quad members – the United States, Japan, Australia and India – will share unclassified data gathered using a combination of automatic identification system signals from ships and radio-frequency technologies.

The system will connect existing surveillance centres, including two in India and Singapore, as well as the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands and the Pacific Fusion Centre in Vanuatu. The latter two are backed by Australia.

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